Bringing Havana to Saratoga: Cuban Music Shakes Up Classical Scene

Ten minutes down the road from Saratoga Performing Art Center’s Dead and Company concert June 20th, the performing arts center was co-hosting with Skidmore a classical event “Mozart in Havana.” While stylistically different from the jam up the road, and certainly separate in target audiences, the Cuban orchestra inspired by free expression and lighthearted love for music.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra intrigued a full house of excited classical music lovers with over two hours of intricate dialogues between piano and orchestra. The concert featured a classical piece from Cuba, two Mozart concertos, a Copland, and a surprise arrangement of Cuban music that had the orchestra members dancing in their seats, and eventually off stage to a salsa rhythm. Simone Dinnerstein, a well-respected and acknowledged talent of her generation, paired her love of piano music with her interest in Cuban music and culture on this cool June evening.

Taking the stage at Skidmore’s Arthur Zankel Music Center, Ms. Dinnerstein held the audience captivated with the technically challenging  yet beautifully managed Mozart concertos. Both concertos 21 and 23 were recognizable to the audience, making the music selection accessible to audiences while also demonstrating Ms. Dinnerstein’s well-controlled and expressive musicianship.

Simone Dinnerstein, a well-respected and acknowledged talent of her generation, paired her love of piano music with her interest in Cuban music and culture on this cool June evening.  The concert’s bookends were well-loved compositions from both Cuban and American cannons for orchestra. Concert notes reflected thought about how to best bridge the cultures through classical music

The concert’s bookends were well-loved compositions from both Cuban and American canons for orchestra. Concert notes reflected thought about how to best bridge the cultures through classical music choices and had settled on Farinas and Copland for this purpose. 

The true excitement of the night, however, came from an encore performance of an arrangement composed by the orchestra’s own violinist, Jenny Pena Compo, who delighted audiences with dueling melodies on the trumpet and later violins. Showcasing musicianship and a true passion for their country’s music, the young and diverse orchestra members swayed together to the rhythms of Cuba’s traditional melodies. Musicians left the stage dancing and playing their instruments with a joyful, young energy often missing from classical concerts. 

Audience members shared culture through music in the concert hall, laughing and dancing in their seats in an invigorating and inspiring night of music.